Songwriters don’t have it easy. We’re writing songs during the most competitive time in music industry history. If you’re a professional songwriter, income sources that used to be reliable, like licensing, have become much less so in recent years. And with today’s playlist-centric listening culture, it’s a feast or famine situation for many professional songwriters. But even if you’re not writing songs for your main source of income, there are plenty of challenges you will likely face as a songwriter. If you love making music and want to do it seriously for the rest of your life, it’s helpful to know why so many songwriters call it quits.
Songwriting can be a thankless endeavor for lots of creators at different points in their careers. Maybe you’re just starting out and are struggling to write something that finds an audience. Or maybe you were a part of something big a few years ago and haven’t been able to match that sort of success ever since. Discouragement is one of the biggest reasons songwriters give up making music. Disappointment and rejection are inevitable in music whether you write songs and perform them with a band or create music for other artists. The trick is knowing this fact and accepting it. For so many of us, the biggest reward we get in writing music is the fact that it gives us joy, purpose, and understanding. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make songwriting your career, but if this is your goal you need to know how tough it is to do. If you prioritize the personal enjoyment of songwriting above everything else, you’ll have an inner firewall against disappointment.
Many music-makers give up writing songs because they feel creatively unchallenged. This can happen when a songwriter cranks out the same sort of songs over and over again, or when a writer feels a general lack of interest in the music they make. Boredom is a problem that almost always afflicts experienced songwriters. After years of making music, it’s natural to feel emotionally and creatively disengaged from the writing process sometimes. But rather than quit, so many writers will be better off by taking breaks and learning how to add new energy and ideas to their writing process. Listen to new music. Learn a new instrument. Collaborate with someone with a totally different approach to music than you. If you’re bored writing music, it’s because you’re too comfortable. By shaking things up and adding newness to your process songwriting will continue to be engaging and interesting for you.
Lack of financial support
It takes time and money to make music. From the cost of instruments and recording equipment to the time it takes to write songs that you could’ve spent earning money in more reliable ways, songwriting requires some big investments. You might love to make music and want to do it for the rest of your life, but it can be very difficult to pursue if it’s not earning you money. For many writers, this gets better over time when specific songs start to gain traction and earn money and attention. It’s not easy to do, but the answer here is to make the best music you can as often as you can by fitting songwriting into your daily life in ways that are consistent and realistic. How many hours each week can you devote to writing? Maybe it’s only three or four. If so, make the most you can out of those hours, and make sure you don’t skip a week. Instead of giving up, try fitting music creation into your life in ways that are sustainable.
External daily life factors
Non-musical careers, kids, and romantic partners are all examples of things that can stand in the way of you and your music. The catch is that the best music is about humanity and the complex lives we live. This means that a balance has to be struck between your musical and non-musical life. If you don’t do this, you’ll either quit writing songs or have nothing meaningful to write songs about. For many of us, the trick is to create time during each week that’s completely devoted to songwriting, recording, and music production while showing up fully for the other areas of life you feel passionate about in the rest of your time. Living a deep and meaningful life outside of music while carrying out space to write songs is the recipe for finding long-term fulfillment and balance in your songwriting career.
Songwriting can be grueling, heartbreaking, thankless, and exhausting. But if this is your career, or even if it’s something that gives you purpose and excitement, you’ll need to find the motivation to press ahead when things get tough.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.